Students are neighbors, too

I vote in Fayetteville elections. I pay Fayetteville city taxes. I enjoy using Fayetteville’s parks and trails. By all measures, I have been a Fayettevillian for almost four years.

I also happen to be a student.

The hot topic is the re-zoning of the sale barn lot and the ensuing outrage over where Fayetteville will bury its veterans that pass on in the third, fourth, and subsequent decades of this century. But a tangential issue, and the one that got this author’s dander up, is the idea that somehow students make poor neighbors and bad residents of this city.

For almost four years I have tried to be a good steward of Fayetteville and have praised its merits to the rest of the state. My background is in central Arkansas and I don’t know a person in that part of the state that hasn’t heard from me at least once how great our funky little city is.

Photo of cartoon from 7/6/09 Democrat-Gazette

But it doesn’t seem like other residents of Fayetteville want to reciprocate. In fact, Lt. Col. Jim Buckner indicated that students would be “the worst possible neighbor to our veterans,” and we also learned from an editorial cartoon on Monday that college students can reasonably be portrayed as the prototype embodied by John Belushi in Animal House.

Frankly, as the son of a veteran and a big fan of the heritage and history promoted by the Fayetteville National Cemetery, I was inclined to side with the groups seeking to reject the re-zoning. However, the vitriolic sentiment that somehow students would be the “worst possible neighbor” to the national cemetery makes me think some Fayetteville residents haven’t given much thought to what students mean to this community, regardless of the outcome of this property’s zoning. In fact, it makes you wonder if the proponents of the cemetery’s acquisition of this property wouldn’t cling to anything that they thought would help their cause.

As neighbors, we make up around one-third of Fayetteville’s population during the year.

As neighbors, we help pay for the roads, schools, trails, and parks in this city.

As neighbors, we patronize local restaurants, listen to music at local venues, and buy produce from local farmers.

And as neighbors we send young men and women overseas to fight for our county. In May, I watched one of my closest friends become an officer of the United States Army – a graduate of the UA ROTC program and now a Second Lieutenant in the infantry. I think he and dozens of other UA cadets know a thing or two about being good neighbors and respecting our military heroes. And I think to name them among “the worst possible neighbor(s)” is not only irresponsible, but ignorant.

That’s not to say there aren’t bad neighbors in Fayetteville. Some students play their music too loud, are destructive and obnoxious, and do indeed exhibit poor citizenship. But that’s more indicative of a lack of cooperation and communication between the University and the city than it is an indictment of college students as a whole.

As an economic unit and as a huge part of the social funkiness of Fayetteville, students deserve the respect they earn by shopping here, volunteering here, and quite often choosing to settle here. So cut us some slack when it comes to this re-zoning. Make it about the veterans.

Because at the end of the day, we all love this city and want to do what’s best for it, and for our heroes in uniform.

Will Watson